16 May 2013

Joys of Accidental Felting OR No Such Thing as a Ruined Fleece

Washing raw fleece isn't the most challenging aspect of spinning, but doing it right isn't always easy and in my case it took a fair bit of learning from a lot of sources.  (Thank you, all you fibre artists out there, for sharing your expertise, especially those who give free advice.) Now that I've washed many fleeces, I can safely say that while I'm better at it than I used to be, I still have a ways to go.  So many types of fleece, each with its own personality.  It's actually a process I really enjoy.  But that's another topic for another day.

Today the topic is a sad event in my fleece-washing history.  Luckily, the world being what it is, sometimes these little sadnesses that seem so heartbreaking in the moment can become happy accidents when seen in the right light.

One of the first whole raw fleeces I bought was from a beautiful Romney ewe from Aspen Grove Farm in Nova Scotia.  It was early in my spinning days.  I had made the natural progression of many spinners from buying dyed wool top to dyeing the top myself, and then on to processing wool from raw fleece.  Because while spinning commercial top offers the charm of ease and speed and a certain quality of texture unrecreatable at home, there's nothing like rolling your own, as they say.

Anyway, blah blah through the early stages of this raw fleece experiment and fast forward to getting home from Nova Scotia with my beautiful Romney fleece.  It was big.  I washed the whole thing at once and through the magic and mystery of the alchemy of wool, hot water, and soap, managed to pretty much felt the whole darn thing despite feeling sure I hadn't done anything wrong.  Bits here and there were okay for spinning, but most of it I couldn't work with.  Lesson learned, right.  I packed it away at the back of my workroom and tried not to think about it.  Onwards and upwards.

But its presence was impossible to ignore because my workroom is TINY and PACKED FULL with yarn and fleece and dye and a sewing machine and craft books and fabric and two looms and a spinning wheel and a drum carder and ... you know how it is.  So even packed away, it was never far and remained buzzing around in my mind, this lovely fleece just waiting there for the next stage of its life -- because it was still lustrous, curly, wonderfully long locks, they were just all stuck fast together at the cut ends.  I had to do something visible with it.  This fleece could not wind up as stuffing.  

Then one day an Etsy friend who was packing up to move sent me a box of felting roving in several colours.  Very kind.  And the blues and greens got me thinking of the ocean, deep waters and slowly grazing fish.  Now it so happens that -- coming from Nova Scotia (which is right on the ocean) and living in Ontario (which is a two-day drive away from Nova Scotia) -- the ocean  and subjects sea-related are on my mind much of the time.  I really miss living out there and I miss those things that you take for granted when the shore is only 20 minutes away.  So getting this shipment of roving with its water colours put in my head an idea for a big felting project of an underwater scene. Suddenly all that lovely Romney fleece calling out to me from its Rubbermaid prison was tangled seaweed waiting for a place to call home.

Jellyfish - total size 50" x 72"

I used every piece of bubble wrap I could find in the house for this, and found  a bamboo roll-up blind on sale just big enough to roll up the whole thing.  I did the wet felting on the floor of the laundry room, either kneeling on my gardening mat firming up the surface of the felt, or sitting on a chair, rolling the bundle with my feet.  When it was dry, I needle-felted the rest.

(top left)

I didn't spend much time planning the layout.  I began adding seaweed and just let myself go.  It was really, really fun.  I also got out all the bits of dyed fleece I had leftover from various yarns I've spun, and some bits that have come in fibre packs I've bought from Etsy, such as the Bitter Peacock and UpCycled Art.  

(top right)

I wanted the fleece to be what the piece was all about, so while I did add some fish -- because I love fish; I like the simplistic shape that suggests "fish" - they're not detailed in themselves except that they're made from pieces of handmade felt that I really like.

(bottom left)
I really like the 3-D effect of the curly Romney fleece as well.  I would go on to say that it's reminiscent of the floating, reaching fronds of seaweed in the Atlantic but it really isn't.  I would do a lot more snorkelling, otherwise.  In fact I find actual North Atlantic seaweed kind of scary and threatening and do my best to avoid it in the water.  Funny that I was inspired to felt an entire tapestry featuring it.  Maybe it's a sign that I've simply misunderstood it all these years and seaweed and I are heading for a future of mutual respect...

(bottom right)

Friendly jellyfish who wouldn't sting anybody
My favourite, though, is this guy.  He really became the focus of the piece, even though he's small relative to the overall size of the wallhanging.  The legs are some crazy alpaca boucle hand-dyed by the Fleece Artist that I had leftover from a scarf I wove years ago for my daughter.  I only had a bit of it left, but I couldn't part with it because the colours and texture are so lovely.  Again, as with the seaweed, I'm not a huge lover of jellyfish.  Not actual ones when they're swimming in the water with me, at least.  On TV documentaries they can be very beautiful.

I loved making this piece.  I was so happy to have all that lovely Romney fleece to dye whatever colours I felt like, and needle-felting it all together with wild abandon was very fulfilling.  I felt rich.

To hang it -- this is always the hard part for me, and I always forget just how hard until I find myself in the midst of trying to hang something again -- I first mounted the felt.  I made a backer with a piece of red upholstery fabric -- I'd been going for purple, actually, or bluish-purple -- something ocean-like -- but this red caught my eye and after much humming and hawing in the fabric store I went with it.  I like how it plays with the other colours in the tapestry.  I sewed a heavy cotton lining onto the back for strength, and invisibly sewed the felt directly onto this backer.  The top is folded over to make a long pocket for a hanging rod.  I used one of those metal wall brackets that are perforated with holes for hanging shelf brackets.  I cut and hemmed five openings along the pocket to expose holes in the rod, and voila -- after an endless afternoon of arguing with my husband about the best placement for the five hooks on the living room wall (these things can be hard on a relationship!) -- we got it hung and this baby's not coming down!

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